Update, November 21, 2015, 9:00 a.m.: Due to updates to data in another state, North Dakota's rank has changed to tied for 37th overall.
When Ben Hanson ran for state House in 2012, he could hardly believe that his campaign war chest could be spent on absolutely anything.
Unlike nearly all other states, North Dakota had no laws restricting the use of campaign funds.
“I was appalled at that,” Hanson said recently, explaining why he set out earlier this year to ban such funds from being used for personal reasons. The Democrat from West Fargo said he worked hard to get bipartisan sponsorship only to have his bill voted down by the chamber’s Republican supermajority.
What especially irked him, he said, was the reason given by opponents.
“I’ve been here since 2001, I’ve never heard of any of my colleagues both from the Democrat side and the Republican side discussing the fact that they had ever done anything like that and I don’t suspect that anybody would,” Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, said of treating campaign contributions as a personal slush fund. He spoke last February, just before the House voted, 65-26, to kill the bill.
“It’s kind of like saying everybody knows you’re supposed to stop at a red light so we’re just not going to have a law that says so,” Hanson said recently.
Kasper heads the House committee that vets proposed ethics laws and its recommendations carry significant weight with state representatives. He did not return repeated calls for comment.
Hanson said he wasn’t all that surprised with how the vote went, noting that the legislature has for years rejected calls for reforms to the state’s ethics laws. He also expressed alarm at the tremendous amount of outside money pouring into state politics, thanks to the oil boom here.
In the 2015 State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven assessment by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity that examines transparency and accountability, North Dakota ranked tied for 37th among the 50 states with a score of 60, a D-. The low grade doesn’t suggest the presence of corruption, but indicates that the state’s institutions are ill equipped to fight corruption should it emerge.